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Lent with Br. Casey: Death Posted by Br. Casey Cole, OFM on 3/5/18 12:00 AM  
  Posted On : 06 Mar 2018   Posted by Fr. blog.franciscanmedia  
 

 

My grandmother lived a very long, full life. In the 91 years before she died, she raised a family of 10 children—her crown jewel—who then produced her 28 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Never once did she go to a party and fail to make an impression on the other guests; and all throughout her life, she found pleasure praying the rosary and going to Mass, even being fortunate enough to pilgrimage to both Rome and Medjugorje on multiple occasions. If there was a bucket list for my grandmother, I can hardly think of something that she left unchecked. She lived a very long, full life.

Unfortunately, not everyone is so lucky.

Statistically speaking, roughly 160,000 people die every day around the world. Of those, 29,000 are children under the age of five dying from mostly preventable causes. And while overall age expectancy is up to 69 years old—the greatest it has ever been in human history—an estimated one in five people will still die between the ages of 15 and 60.

Why do 3-year-olds die? Why are so many lives cut short, leaving behind family and loved ones? Why does God allow innocent people to die? 

While some may see these questions as an attack on God, a show of one’s lack of faith or antagonism against religion, I believe that our asking them is not only justified, they are at the very core of our faith. More than anything else, our Christian faith finds its merit in our ability to answer the difficult questions of life and death. In fact, I believe that Jesus wanted us to ask the question so that he could answer it. 

Cue chapter 11 of John’s Gospel. 

Traveling around to preach with his disciples, Jesus hears word that his close friend, Lazarus, is gravely ill. Knowing of course that Jesus has already performed six extraordinary signs thus far in the Gospel, the reader no doubt expects him to return to his friend to perform one more. But he doesn’t. Instead, and against his disciples urging, he remains where he is and lets Lazarus die. This detail is not lost on Lazarus’ sister.

Upon arriving to Lazarus’ house, now four days after his death, Martha shares with Jesus how she truly feels: “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” Even though she concludes by showing that she trusts Jesus, Martha, once again, represents how we so often feel. Why, God, when you have such power would you let this happen? Don’t you love us? She, like so many of us in tragedy, is unable to reconcile how God can be all loving and all powerful, and yet allow things like this to happen.

So why did Jesus delay? Was it because he didn’t truly care for Lazarus? Surely not, as he wept when he saw his tomb. Was it because he didn’t have the power to heal him? Surely not, as he had already shown the power to perform incredible signs of the Father’s glory. 

No, the reason he delays, as he tells his disciples on the road that they are delaying, “is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Jesus wanted Lazarus to die so that he could show how pointless a fear of death is. Jesus wanted to show that death—the inevitable event that we dread, the thing that grips our souls and leaves us in fear more than anything else—has no power over him. “I am the resurrection and the life,” he says. “Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” 

Death is not a punishment from God or something to fear because death is not the end of the story. It is a beginning. It is a sign of the great power and wonder of God to give even greater life to those who lose their earthly one, a sign that he demonstrates in his own dying, offering us a path to follow. We have to die if we want to be like Jesus. We have to die if we want to rise and live with him for eternity. In allowing Lazarus to die and demystifying the experience of death—even tragic ones—Jesus calls us to follow after him, even in death, without fear. 

And so he asks Martha, and I believe asks all of us when we find ourselves struck by tragedy, “Do you believe this?” Do we truly believe that Jesus has the power to conquer death? Do we believe that Jesus truly rose from the grave and that we who are baptized into his death will do the same? Do we believe that death is not the end but in fact simply a new beginning, a gateway into eternal communion with the creator of the universe? 

And what would our lives look like if we truly did? 

My guess is that it would still be sad. Jesus wept when he heard of Lazarus’ death because it’s always sad to lose someone we love. Whether its my 91-year-old grandmother or a 3-year-old child, death is always tragic. It is still OK to mourn. 

And yet, if we truly believed what Jesus showed us in his raising of Lazarus, we could never despair or give up hope. Our lives would not be dictated by fear of death, getting old, or losing loved ones, but constantly filled with the reassuring joy that nothing—not even death—can keep us from the communion we share with each other in Jesus. Jesus did not simply “raise from the dead,” Jesus is alive. Jesus is, in the present tense. And so are we. And so is everyone we love now or ever loved in the past.

We may never know for sure why some people die tragically earlier than others, and yet we find in Jesus that the question doesn’t have the sting that it used to. Death is not a punishment or the end, but our entrance into eternal life with God and others.

 
     
 
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    July 7 2019 Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Lectionary: 102 Reading 1 IS 66:10-14C Thus says the LORD: Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her, all you who love her; exult, exult with her, all you who were mourning over her! Oh, that you may suck fully of the milk of her comfort, that you may nurse with delight at her abundant breasts! For thus says the LORD: Lo, I will spread prosperity over Jerusalem like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing torrent. As nurslings, you shall be carried in her arms, and fondled in her lap; as a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; in Jerusalem you shall find your comfort. When you see this, your heart shall rejoice and your bodies flourish like the grass; the LORD's power shall be known to his servants. Responsorial Psalm PS 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20 R. (1) Let all the earth cry out to God with joy. Shout joyfully to God, all the earth, sing praise to the glory of his name; proclaim his glorious praise. Say to God, "How tremendous are your deeds!" R. Let all the earth cry out to God with joy. "Let all on earth worship and sing praise to you, sing praise to your name!" Come and see the works of God, his tremendous deeds among the children of Adam. R. Let all the earth cry out to God with joy. He has changed the sea into dry land; through the river they passed on foot; therefore let us rejoice in him. He rules by his might forever. R. Let all the earth cry out to God with joy. Hear now, all you who fear God, while I declare what he has done for me. Blessed be God who refused me not my prayer or his kindness! R. Let all the earth cry out to God with joy. Reading 2 GAL 6:14-18 Brothers and sisters: May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision, but only a new creation. Peace and mercy be to all who follow this rule and to the Israel of God. From now on, let no one make troubles for me; for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen. Alleluia COL 3:15A, 16A R. Alleluia, alleluia. Let the peace of Christ control your hearts; let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. R. Alleluia, alleluia. Gospel LK 10:1-12, 17-20 At that time the Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit. He said to them, "The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way. Into whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this household.' If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for the laborer deserves his payment. Do not move about from one house to another. Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you, cure the sick in it and say to them, 'The kingdom of God is at hand for you.' Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you, go out into the streets and say, 'The dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we shake off against you.' Yet know this: the kingdom of God is at hand. I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom on that day than for that town." The seventy-two returned rejoicing, and said, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name." Jesus said, "I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky. Behold, I have given you the power to 'tread upon serpents' and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven." Or LK 10:1-9 At that time the Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit. He said to them, "The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way. Into whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this household.' If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for the laborer deserves his payment. Do not move about from one house to another. Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you, cure the sick in it and say to them, 'The kingdom of God is at hand for you.'"
     
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